At a recent weekend retreat in Roanoke, Virginia, nine fellows programs from the Virginia/North Carolina/Tennessee area convened to consider the theme of social justice. Our guest speaker was Dr. Amy Sherman, who has devoted her life to understanding and striving for a fuller expression of the Kingdom of God here on Earth.
Dr. Sherman has long had a heart for economically depressed inner-city communities, and on this weekend she shared with us a vision of what it means to do justice in a Biblical sense. The phrase “do justice” seems a bit strange to me, semantically speaking. In my lexicon, one does things to bring about justice, but what does it mean to “do justice?” Yet, that is precisely what Micah 6:8 says: “He has told you, O man, what is good; / And what does the LORD require of you / But to do justice, to love kindness, / And to walk humbly with your God?” (NASB).
Drawing from this verse, Dr. Sherman shared three biblically-rooted aspects of what it means to “do justice”, namely through Rescue, Equity, and Social Flourishing. Rescue refers to the process of remedying blatant injustice. Equity refers to the process of ensuring the poor do not bare a disproportionate societal burden. And finally, social flourishing refers to the process of creating opportunities and wealth for all of society’s members.
For the 100+ fellows in attendance, each one aspiring to make a difference in the world and in the Kingdom, the question remains: How does one tackle these huge issues? Dr. Sherman gave example after example to illustrate how our daily work matters. In the case of wrongfully accused victims of corrupt governments she noted it takes lawyers and investigators to do the legal work of securing the release of victims, but she also suggests journalists and artists play an important role to raise awareness of abuses. In the case of correcting systemic economic disparities in inner-city communities, she noted it takes people working in government to enact policy reform, but also recognized how business owners can contribute to fostering equity in the way they structure their business models to ensure more reliable wages for their blue collar employees. For each of these categories, Dr. Sherman gave examples to show it is not only those people with a particular vocation who make a difference, but every person in every role who has some opportunity to “do justice” through their daily work.
Dr. Sherman addressed the justice which comes through social flourishing drawing from our understanding of the Hebrew word shalom, which is more than simply “peace”, as it is sometimes translated, but rather is God’s normative vision of human relations as it was designed for man before the Fall. In this state of shalom, there was a wholeness, a webbing together of all people in justice, fulfillment, and delight. Man’s sin ruined this state of shalom and Dr. Sherman argues, a proper Biblical vision of justice seeks, through the redemptive power of Christ’s resurrection, to return our world to that ideal of social flourishing.
As I reflect on the weekend and what we learned, I realize the command to “do justice” is the right way to phrase this crucial imperative. Justice can be realized through powerful acts of people in lofty positions of authority, and justice can be realized through the small things, but it is important in every vocation. We must not be content to simply do things that lead to justice. We must do justice. I pray that in my vocation, now and to come, that I might be faithful to Micah’s message.
Jay Bilsborrow interned at The Washington Institute during his fellows year and currently attends Emory Law School.